Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Union Truckers Launch Port Metro Vancouver Strike

By Mark Edward Nero

Following in the path of non-unionized truck drivers who began a work stoppage at Port Metro Vancouver in late February, hundreds of union truckers serving Canada’s largest and busiest port have gone on strike.

Starting at 7 am March 10, picket lines were set up at nine locations around the port as a result of a vote earlier this month by the Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association to authorize a strike.

The roughly 400 union truckers joined with several hundred members of the non-profit United Truckers Association of British Columbia, which began a work stoppage and set up a blockade at Port Metro Vancouver on Feb. 26 in protest of long wait times at port terminals.

The union’s main gripe is over wages: it says the average pay rate in the British Columbia area is $23 an hour, but that the average pay for truckers moving containers in and out of Port Metro Vancouver is $15.59 an hour.

Vince Ready, a mediator appointed by Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, has thus far been unable to hammer out an agreement between the various parties.

“The purpose of Mr. Ready’s appointment was to conduct a review of an industry that is clearly not functioning well for all stakeholders,” Port Metro Vancouver President and CEO Robin Silvester said in a statement. “We agree that truckers should be paid a fair wage, but bargaining relating to employment and contract relationships can only be done with the employer or the parties to the contract. Port Metro Vancouver is not the employer and is not party to the contract relationships.”

The non-union truckers’ primary complaint has been long wait times at terminals. The drivers, who are independent owner-operators and paid by the load, say they can sometimes wait two or three hours on port property before being able to pick up or drop off containers.

The strike has already had a “dramatic” effect on container movement, according to the port. An estimated 90 percent of truck traffic has been halted. The economic impact of truckers walking off the job, Silvester said, is about $885 million per week.